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  • Writer's pictureGiles Lindley


Thank you Will. Thank you, the band. It's good to be with you today. I'm going to read from Luke, the fourth chapter, and it is really early in the story. It's right after his baptism, Jesus' baptism. 

So Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where, for 40 days, he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of those days he was hungry. The devil said to him if you are the Son of man, son of God, tell this stone to become bread. Jesus answered it is written man shall not live by bread alone. 

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world, and he said to him I will give you all their authority and all splendor. It has been given to me. I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours. Jesus answered it is written worship the Lord, your God, and serve him only. 

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written he will command his angels, concerning you, to guard you carefully. They will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. And Jesus answered. It is said do not put the Lord, your God, to the test. When the devil had finished all of this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. 

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. 

It's going to be back for a couple of weeks. For those of you who don't know, I am Giles Lindley. I was the pastor of Starkville First United Methodist Church a long time ago, as Will was kind of alluded to. It's been five and a half years since I retired. That that seems hard to believe. And I retired from active church work. 

I've been teaching at the university. I still fill in preaching occasion, teach Sunday school almost every Sunday up the hill, as we say, and last time I was down here the connection pastor was having some eye surgery. So here I get to come back. This time the senior pastor up the hill had a trip that he had planned before he took the interim position, and so Brother Brian is going up the hill to preach and I am here for the next two weeks and you will get to decide who gets the better end of that deal. 

You may have heard that there was a holiday called Mardi Gras this past Tuesday. How much you know about the medium Mardi Gras is directly dependent on how close you have lived at some point in your life to New Orleans or Mobile or the Mississippi Gulf Coast. You probably still know that it has something to do with parades and cakes and throwing beads and generally partying all the time. 

I served six years in D’Iberville, Mississippi, so I'm not exactly an expert, but I did get to experience it firsthand. I know a good king cake from a fake king cake. I know what the baby means in the king cake. I have marched in Mardi Gras parades and thrown beads and while I've never had anyone lift up their shirt to beg me for beads, I have seen two little old grandmamas fight for a 50 cent string of beads without spilling their beers. It's not exactly New Orleans in Biloxi, but it could get kind of crazy at some point in time. 

You may know that the wildness of Mardi Gras is supposed to be some kind of letting off some steam before the more serious time of the year called Lent. Lent is a season of the church year and it's the time leading up to Good Friday and Easter. It is a time of repentance, sometimes for repenting for the things we did during Mardi Gras. It is a time for reflection on our lives and on all that Jesus has done for us. And it's a time of preparation for receiving and understanding the gift that comes to us in those twin holy days of Good Friday and Easter, because you can't have one of those days without the other. The meaning takes both of them.

Whether you do it or not, You may have heard of people giving up stuff. For Lent I used to give up something. I tried giving up yelling at the refs at the basketball game one time and that didn't last very long. It was not healthy for me either, so I just kind of let go of that. These days I usually give up and I am doing this year time-wasting video games. I know that is hard on some people, but things that distract me, things that keep me from doing maybe more serious things. I have put them aside for the next several weeks and probably will be good for me in a number of ways. 

The idea of giving up something is supposed to make us think about the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Now, giving up cokes or sweets or video games or broccoli or whatever you chose to give up, no way measures in any sort of comparison what Jesus did to us and for us. And it's not supposed to, but it is supposed to be a little reminder that when you want that coke or want to play that game or want to do that and you stop and think why I'm not, you realize that someone did do something, something far greater, for you. 

The traditional Bible story for this first Sunday in the season of Lent is the story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. It comes at the very beginning of his ministry. The story of temptation follows immediately his baptism by John and it's told that way in Matthew, mark and Luke, and together these stories mark Jesus kind of message from God to okay, it's time to get started, it's time to get at work. 

Remember, Jesus has been alive for 30 years and in those 30 years we've got one story. Between when he was born and when he was baptized, we don't know what he was doing. We assume that he was studying. We assume that he was learning about people. We assume that he was maybe working as a carpenter probably was. But this is where God is saying it's time, It's time for the ministry to begin. 

But as it begins, it's important to the personal preparation and testing of Jesus that he goes through this story of temptation, and I think there's a message for us as we read this story. 

Even as some people in that day hoped for and wished for a Messiah, they really weren't sure what to expect. Some people wanted a Messiah that would be more like King David. They wanted a political leader that would make them a great nation again, that would kick out the Romans and that would generally just establish Israel as a great kingdom once again. 

Some were looking for a new priest or a new prophet who would come and bring a message and prepare the people and purify the people, and that's why people some people thought that John the Baptist might be the Messiah. There were a lot of people in that day that thought that John was the Messiah. That's why he had to say so many times no, I'm not, the Messiah is still coming. 

Some people look for something even more apocalyptic, that the Messiah was going to come and it was going to be judgment day and it was going to be a whole new ball game. 

The stories of the temptation bring into focus the idea that Jesus' Messiahship is not what anybody was really expecting. He turns down the chance for earthly power and great public display. He turns down the opportunity to use his power to meet his own needs. Here, at the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus sends a message that his power will not be misused, that he will not be corrupted, he will not be self-serving, that it will not be used for spectacle but it will not be used to satisfy simple needs and wants and desires. 

But in the same way, he shows that his power can be used to save the world. And this power his willingness to accept discipline, sacrifice, and this power to make a difference in our lives. 

In the story, Jesus has been fasting for 40 days. Most of us get cranky if we miss one meal. Some of you all will start getting cranky at about 11:55 and I will try to get you out before you get hangry and before we have to move on. But sacrifice by fasting is part of the Christian tradition. 

If something that Jesus was doing would do it, it's a time of sacrifice. It's also a time of intense personal reflection. But either way, at the end of this 40 days, Jesus was hungry, he was tired, his physical body was weak. Remember, he is in human form. He is one of us, our form, with all of its weaknesses and all of its wonders, and that's important to this story, it's important to the whole gospel story. 

So, in this condition of having all the hurts and all the needs and all the desires of being human and at the same time, having miraculous power that could do anything, that's when the real challenge comes and that's when the devil comes at him. 

The first temptation is to turn a stone into bread. It makes sense. Jesus is hungry. He certainly could have done that. Jesus changed water into wine. Later on he would change one boy's lunch into a feast for thousands. He could do it. But in this case it would mean using His power simply for His own needs. 

There's an interesting phrase in there too. As the devil says, if you are the Son of God… kind of meaning maybe you got something to prove. Maybe you need to show off this power, to show who you are, maybe even show that you are independent of God. But the fast is over and Jesus is going to eat soon enough. And so he tells the devil no, he has nothing to prove by a cheap trick. And this is where Jesus replies man shall not live by bread alone. 

The second temptation is kind of odd. Why would Satan author authority over the kingdoms of earth when Jesus is already the King of King and Lord of Lords? 

Maybe he's offering a shortcut. Jesus is King, but maybe to claim His kingdom he would have to follow this earthly plan that must lead through death, the cross. And maybe the devil is saying you don't have to do that, I can give it to you right now. But Jesus says no. This is what Jesus was talking about. No, excuse me, this is what Paul was talking about when he wrote of “Jesus who, being in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Rather, he made himself nothing. By taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross, and therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that the name of Jesus. Every knee shall bow and heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.” 

Maybe Satan is offering Jesus a way that avoids some of that, that denies God, that avoids the cross, avoids the humbling of his last days. But Jesus knows he already has authority and power. Both will be used in service of God, the Father, and not to rule the world but to save it.

A little aside here.  I saw this devotional calendar one time, one of those calendars that you know has a different verse for every day of the year, and one day the verse was, “all this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me,” and I thought you know that is from the Bible. But isn't that the devil speaking? And of course it is. Just a reminder that when someone quotes the Bible at you, not every word in the Bible is a message directly to you. There are some stories, there are people who tell lies in the Bible and they're called out as liars. But you can't take a verse out of context. Always remember to look to see where did that verse come from? Who's saying it? That's your free side lesson for today. 

The third temptation Jesus has taken to the pinnacle of the temple to throw himself off, knowing that God will come and send angels to catch him and save him. The pinnacle is a corner of the temple mount that looms over a deep valley below, and I have seen it. It would be a bad jump, it would be a very dangerous fall. 

And just to remind you again of another odd point here, here's the devil himself quoting Scripture, quoting God's word. This time he's using the words of Psalm 91 against Jesus, “for he will command his angels, concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. They will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against the stone.” That's really is the Bible and that really is a good message for us, but it's the devil using it. We need to hear this, especially in this day and time. Just because someone is quoting the Bible doesn't mean that they’re on God side or your side. That's your second free lesson for today. 

Back to our story about the pinnacle. Jesus' response is to quote Scripture back at him “Do not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Its meaning seems to be you don't do something just to make God do something. You don't do something just to make God put on a show, but there's something deeper and more forward looking here too, because there will come a time when Jesus will face death and God could do something about it, and because he knows why all these things are happening. Jesus will be willing to say “Not my will, but thy will be done.” We're going to come back and talk about that a little bit next Sunday. 

There's a lot that happens in these temptations. Obviously they mean something to Jesus. It's a time of preparation, it's a time of testing. Remember, he's lived 30 years in a human body. He knows its limitations, he knows its weaknesses, he knows pain. If he was a carpenter, he hit his thumb with the hammer at some point in time. It had happened. I'm not sure what he said when it happened, but it happened. 

He knew what it's like to be tired, he knew what it's like to be thirsty, he knew what it's like to be hungry. He had lived in our bodies, he had lived our lives. We know these things, but sometimes we always suspect that there's something about Jesus, that he was also the Son of God, that somehow his power, somehow his godliness, somehow his Godness kept him from really experiencing these human problems. 

Part of the message of the story of temptation is that: Nah, he really does. He really does know what it's like to be a human being. 

The author of Hebrews understands why this is important. It says in the book of Hebrews, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess, for we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet he did not sin. Let us, then, approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” 

The stories of the temptations help us understand that Jesus really does understand, that Jesus really has gone through and endured and triumphed over so many other things that we know as regular everyday life. Not at getting into all the silly political arguments over an advertisement, but the fact is it's true and an important part of this story Jesus gets us. He knows who we are. Now, he doesn't necessarily want to leave us where he finds us, but Jesus knows who we are and he loves us anyway. There's more to it, but these first stories already point to the end of the story. 

What we see, even in these earliest stories from Jesus' ministry, is the foreshadowing of His suffering and His death. There were people in the early days of Christianity probably still some today who could not accept that Jesus was the Christ, because they refused to believe that the Messiah, the Son of God, could suffer, that he could be humiliated, that he could die on a cross. But that's exactly what happened. And in these events, these stories of the temptation, we see already at the very beginning of the story that he is willing to struggle and he is willing to endure, that he is willing to sacrifice and he is willing to save, and that he refuses to use His power to make it easier for Himself. But he truly came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 

He truly came into this world not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. He truly came into this world to die for us while we were at sinners and we're going to come back to that next week. 

Let us pray. Most gracious Heavenly Father. We thank you for your Son. We thank you for all that he's done for us. We thank you for all that he endured for us. Help us to know His love and grace, but help us to know His time on this earth and how it leads to our salvation. Thank you for your Son, thank you for your grace, thank you for our salvation. We pray in Christ's name, amen. 


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